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use of “prior” in space vs. time

It grates every time I hear a local radio traffic reporter say “there is an accident just prior to the Erindale Rd turn-off.” 

I believe I’m right in thinking the word ‘prior’ is more correctly used in a time context, meaning earlier than or sooner than. 


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To report “there is an accident just prior to the Erindale Rd turn-off” is correct from the perspective of the listener, who judges distances in time as well as linear distance. A driver thinks in terms of duration between landmarks, and may be as likely to consider an exit 2 miles away as 2 minutes away.

Grammar Mammal January 9, 2017, 6:34pm

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As I think prior' is an adjective of priority which is used in the context of time for example must have prior experience in doing that task.....

Anshul wrally December 16, 2016, 6:17am

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Prior means before in time, not in place.

rmensies April 12, 2017, 1:06pm

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"Just prior" is bad English regardless of its reference to time or space. English is supposed to be communicative. "Just" anything communicates "only." For example "just $10" means only $10. But, "just prior" means nothing because "prior" is not a point of reference. "Just prior to the turn-off" could mean one mile, ten miles, . . . before the turn-off. Correct English would be "half mile before the exit," or "one minute before the exit if you are traveling at 55MPH." 11/20/2016.

Lawpilot November 20, 2016, 1:17pm

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Lawpilot, you have addressed the usage of "just" rather than the point of the post which was "prior"
I also happen to disagree - just prior in the context of a traffic report would clearly mean within 20 to 100 metres. Just does not always mean only - have you ever used "just missed" or "just leaving now"?

SpeakEnglandverydelicious November 21, 2016, 3:16am

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I wonder if said reporter would use the sentence "When in the passport arrivals queue, it is required to wait prior to the white line"?

SpeakEnglandverydelicious December 22, 2016, 7:40pm

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